By: Patti Strand  Date: 04/9/2004

On January 29, 2004, justice stumbled: An upstanding veterinarian who had already lost his 20 year practice, his reputation and his livelihood, also lost his case against PETA, an animal rights group that uses decent, law abiding citizens as pawns in its fundraising schemes, and relies on outrageous legal interpretations and an IRS charity exemption to do so.

In June, 1997, Howard Baker, DVM was accused of cruelty to animals based solely on edited videotapes and written statements provided by a spy for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PeTA agent Michelle Rokke began work in Baker's clinic while waiting to start another covert job to find cruelty at a nearby biomedical research laboratory.1 She claimed she saw animals abused on her second day of work at the veterinary hospital, yet she continued to work there for 10 months without telling anyone in the office or any authorities about the alleged mistreatment. Instead, she used a camera in her backpack to record about 200 hours of videotape from June 1996-April 1997 and gave the tape to PeTA, an organization notorious for conducting illicit undercover investigations and manipulating taped evidence. PeTA whittled the tapes down to three minutes, and the shortened version found its way to various media outlets.2 As a result of the edited tape, the Bakers received harassing telephone calls, including death threats, and were confronted with public accusations of cruelty. Activists pressured local authorities and charges were filed; Baker was convicted in 1999 and lost his license, after practicing veterinary medicine without a blemish on his record for 20 years.

Dr. Baker appealed his conviction and won, and his license was soon reinstated.3 In April 2000, a New Jersey Superior Court judge overturned the lower court verdict. In her decision, the appellate judge said that the infiltrator who made the tape was too closely aligned with PeTA and that her testimony was not believable.4

Noting that Rokke waited a year before filing complaints against the veterinarian, the judge wrote: "I cannot find that Michelle Rokae5 is a credible witness such as to be the reed on which the State has built this case. ... Her bias was amply set forth in the record. She candidly admitted that she saw animal abuse where others may not. She has made a career of her devotion not to animal welfare but to animal rights."

Following the appeals court decision, Dr. Baker filed a civil suit for malicious prosecution against PeTA and its mole. Rokke was well-prepared to sway the jury; she cried as she swore to each alleged incident of abuse. Even though other witnesses to these supposed cruelties refuted her testimony, the jury failed to see past the theatrics and find PeTA or its spy guilty of destroying Dr. Baker's livelihood and reputation by viciously pursuing false accusations. The law does not see maliciousness when convinced that the accuser believes his own allegations are true, no matter how absurd or bizarre they may be. Belief in the animal rights philosophy, a dogma that equates animal use to animal abuse, allows activists to see abuse where there is none and to defame individuals and corporations with impunity. PeTA has paved the way with its perversion of the First Amendment: PeTA operatives lie to gain employment at target companies, sneak around with hidden cameras, and use the results of their subterfuge, complete with state-of-the-art editing, to condemn people and projects they object to, then hide behind the constitutional right to freedom of expression when called to account. Unfortunately, they are aided and abetted by courts and juries that allow them to infiltrate private businesses and destroy people based on a belief system that is far outside the American mainstream.

The Baker case is eerily similar to PeTA's accusations against Bobby Berosini, a ninth generation animal trainer and Las Vegas entertainer who had a enormously popular stage show with his orangutans. PeTA used edited videotape to present Berosini to the public as an animal abuser, kicking off a vicious campaign against the use of animals in entertainment. World-renowned primate experts, federal and local agencies and humane societies sided with Berosini, saying the animals were not abused, but that didn't stop PeTA and their true believers. The Berosinis were harassed and threatened and the host hotel was targeted by protesters and flooded with demands that the show be canceled. Berosini sued PeTA for defamation and won a $4.2 million jury decision. However, PeTA appealed, and the Nevada Supreme Court overturned the jury decision on the grounds that PeTA has the right to state their belief, apparently even when the incident in question is staged and the damning evidence is heavily edited videotape.

Fifteen years after the attack on Berosini, PeTA continues to disparage him on its website. The Bakers will likely suffer a similar fate; PeTA already filed suit against Dr. Baker and is repeating the cruelty claims against the doctor in a carefully-spun interpretation of the facts on its website.

PeTA uses spies, lies, and videotape to create a perception of cruelty where none exists and skillfully cons animal lovers into supporting ruthless attacks against those who do not agree with its insane definitions of abuse. Some of PETA's money has ended up in the bank accounts of the Earth Liberation Front, 6 (considered jointly with its sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front, the leading domestic terrorist group by the FBI), and in funds of spokespeople and criminals associated with ALF and ELF. PeTA leaders shrug off inquires into these donations and make statements in support of vandalism and even arson.7 Yet in spite of this evidence, the group maintains its status as a tax-exempt charity with the Internal Revenue Service8 while it systematically goes about its work of destroying the lives of decent people who work with animals.

NAIA believes that those who make accusations based on far out, even cultic belief systems and then rely on "state of mind" defenses rather than on objectively verifiable facts should be held accountable for the damage they cause. Instead the courts have opened the door to a modern version of the Salem witch trials by allowing groups and individuals to destroy reputations and livelihoods and hide behind an ideology that the vast majority of Americans finds repulsive and false. PeTA profits by vilifying its victims using a carefully orchestrated strategy. They should be held accountable for their vicious attacks, not rewarded with an opportunity to continue raising tax-free money by bulldozing lives.

Notes 1. Rokke got the job at Huntingdon Life Sciences and continued to work at the lab and the clinic for seven more months. While at Huntingdon, she stole documents and furtively recorded videotapes that PeTA distilled and distributed to the media and used to harass Huntingdon clients. The company sued and settled out of court. Rokke also told the court she had infiltrated Boys Town Hospital in Nebraska, a chicken farm in North Carolina, and a horse farm in North Dakota. She lied to gain access to each place and typically gave photographs or tapes to PeTA for use in defamatory campaigns. To rub salt in the wound, PeTA and Rokke bragged about Rokke's investigative work at Huntingdon at Dr. Baker's civil trial and took credit for the fine leveled against the company. However, Dr. Baker's attorneys were prevented from using this pattern of malicious behavior in the civil trial because the Huntingdon case had been sealed by a federal court.

2. PeTA denied sending the tape to the media.

3. "Veterinarian wins appeal; PeTA charges thrown out"

4. State v Baker

5. Rokke's name is spelled "Rokae" throughout the judge's comments.

6. PeTA tax returns

7. "A burning building doesn't help melt people's hearts, but times change and tactics, I'm sure, have to change with them. If you choose to carry out ALF-style actions, I ask you to please not say more than you need to, to think carefully who you trust, to learn all you can about how to behave if arrested, and so to try to live to fight another day." Ingrid Newkirk, PeTA's founder and president, Interview in ALF quarterly Bite Back, February, 2003


"If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then, of course we're going to be, as a movement, blowing things up and smashing windows ... I think it's a great way to bring about animal liberation ... I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow. I think it's perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows. ... Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it." Bruce Friedrich, PeTA's director of Vegan Outreach, Animal Rights Conference, 2001


"Throughout the late '80s, me and a handful of friends just like you people here, we started to break windows, we started to slash tires, we started to rescue animals from factory farms and vivisection breeders, and we graduated to breaking into laboratories . As long as we emptied the labs of animals, they were still easily replaced. So that's when the ALF in this country, and my cell, started engaging in arson." Rodney Coronado, convicted felon for 1992 Michigan State University firebombing and PeTA funds beneficiary, speaking at SHAC rally, Edison, New Jersey, November 30, 2002. See more PeTA quotes here.

8. Sign a petition to revoke PeTA's tax exempt status at www.naiaonline.org

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